Customer Service Success – The Buck Stops…Where?

There is a customer service philosophy known as underpromise; overdeliver. That is a motto of the champion. It is one of the pillars of success. If this philosophy is so important then what does it mean and how do we live it? Well, let’s break it down and take a look at it.

First of all, I believe it means we have to give ourselves a little grace period. Let’s say it normally takes you two days to do something for a friend. What I recommend is telling them that you will have it done for them no later than three days. Why three days? Because there is a little guy named Murphy. Now, from time to time Murphy comes to visit us. He brings with him his own little law known as Murphy’s Law which basically says if something could go wrong it will. If you said you would have it done for them in two days and Murphy comes and messes everything up and you’re late then your friend is upset and your credibility is weakened. On the other hand, if you say you will have it done no later than three days and Murphy shows up and delays the progress, you still have a chance of getting it done on time because you have given yourself a little grace period. You see, by saying no later than three days, you give yourself options anywhere between day one and day three. What if you tell them you will have it done for them no later than three days and Murphy doesn’t show up and you get it done for your friend in two days? Your friend is thrilled. You are terrific. I know there are going to be times where you can’t give yourself a grace period, but when you can underpromise; overdeliver.

The next thing this philosophy says to me is that we have to take responsibility. United States President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk. It read, “The Buck Stops Here!” President Truman made that popular, but do you know the historical heritage of that statement? It goes farther back in history than Truman. Where it comes from is in the old days when they were playing cards. What they did is they would use a buck knife. They would put this knife in front of the next dealer. The buck stops here. The responsibility stops here. Over the years, they quit using the buck knife. They would use a coin instead, like a silver dollar. They still referred to it as a buck. That is why some people say that they have ten bucks in their pocket.

Years later, President Truman put that sign on his desk saying that he was taking responsibility for everything in his administration. If something went wrong, then he would fix it. If he couldn’t fix it then he would take the heat. The buck stopped with him. He was responsible. Where does the buck stop in our lives? Are we always looking for a scapegoat? Do we always have an excuse? Is it always someone else’s fault? The champion has the courage to take responsibility and action to back it up. The buck stops with us!

The third element I believe we can take from this philosophy is that we must “go the extra mile.” You have probably heard that statement all your life but do you know the historical perspective on this one? Let me give you a hint. It is older than the last one. Doesn’t help? Well, why don’t I go ahead and tell you. This saying is around 2,000 years old. It is a Biblical term. It comes from the teachings of Jesus Christ. It has to do with Roman law. In Jesus’ day, Roman law said that if a Roman soldier came up to you and said, “Carry my armor!”, then by law you were required to carry his armor for one mile. If you didn’t comply then he could probably kill you. So, as you can imagine, most people carried the armor but they weren’t too pleased about it. They weren’t too fond of the Roman soldiers. Rome was a conqueror. These soldiers were a representation of their bondage. They despised the soldiers. So, they weren’t too pleased or pleasant as they carried the armor. Well, Jesus turned things upside down. He told the people of Israel to carry the armor not only one mile but two miles. Give them more than they expect. Shock them with kindness. Give that extra effort. The result of this was fantastic. History records that when Christianity was spread to the Roman Empire, it was spread through the Roman soldiers. When we give that little extra effort, spend that extra moment with a friend, or do something that needs to be done even though it is not our job to do it, then wonderful things happen. It changes not only the lives we touch, it changes ours’ as well.

We’ll get it painted for you!

I have a friend who really taught me what it means to “go the extra mile.” His name is C.A. Bridges. At the time of this story, C.A. was the service manager at Tom Wood Lexus in Indianapolis, Indiana. A number of years ago, I was having trouble with my car. The clear coat was pealing off the hood of my Chevrolet Berretta. It’s not supposed to do that. The car looked like it had a sunburn. So, I went to my local dealer and I showed then the paint problem. The body guy said, “That doesn’t fall under our warranty for that kind of paint problem.” In other words, I am out of luck. I will have to pay for it myself. Well, I was sharing this with C.A. and he let me vent then he said, “I think we can help you out at Lexus. Bring the car into me and we will get it painted and you won’t have to pay for it.” C.A. explained to me that the guy who does the body work at Tom Wood Lexus also does overflow body work at Dan Young Chevrolet also in Indianapolis.

I drove my very badly painted Chevy Berretta onto this luxury car lot. I’ll have to admit, it kind of stood out. I don’t think they left it outside very long for obvious reasons. What I think they did behind the scenes was get the car to Dan Young Chevrolet where the car began to be worked on. Even when there was a delay on when the car would be finished, C.A. arranged for me to get a rental car free of charge. When the car was done, I drove off in a very beautifully painted Chevrolet Berretta.

What did I get out of this experience? I got help. I got help in an area I couldn’t help myself in. What did C.A. get out of this? Well, I am sure he got that warm feeling most of us get when we help someone in an area we know they couldn’t help themselves in. How about Tom Wood Lexus? I wasn’t one of his customers. What did he get out of this? For one thing, they get a lot of public relations. I have shared this story with seminar audiences all over the country. But they didn’t do it for that reason. You see, this was years ago, my speaking schedule was not near as full as it is today. There was very little PR to give. Also, I don’t think Tom Wood himself ever knew this took place. He has empowered his team to do the right thing—“to go the extra mile.”

You can have my pants

A few years ago, I had a very strange experience on a speaking engagement in Indianapolis. Since I was still living in Anderson, Indiana at the time, about 40 miles northeast of Indy, I decided I would grab one of my suits and drive down the night before and stay in the hotel where the seminar was going to be held the next day.

I was relaxing in my hotel room and something hit me—you better check your suit. I got up and walked to the closet in my hotel room. At first glance, the suit looked fine. After more detailed scrutiny, I realized I didn’t have any pants. What happened to my pants? I knew I had brought them. Where could they be? I then realized what had happened. I had carried my suit in a hanging bag from the cleaners. The type that has no bottom to it. My pants had fallen off the hanger somewhere from my home and the hotel room.

What am I going to do without any pants? Well, I decided I had better look in the hotel. I went down to the parking garage and retraced my steps—no pants! I then went to the front desk and asked if anyone had found any pants. You can imagine the looks I got.

The hotel was a Hyatt Regency in downtown Indianapolis so it also had shops in it. I asked when the shops opened. Big Problem! Too late the next day to be of help to me. Then something amazing happened. I guy behind the front desk heard what was going on. He said, “I have some pants in the back. You can wear my pants.” TALK ABOUT SERVICE! I wore this guy’s pants all the next day. They were a little big, but at least I had pants.

Underpromise; overdeliver! What a concept. If every individual and every organization would adopt this philosophy then our success would be guaranteed. So, where does the buck stop? It stops with us! Success is our choice. That’s the mark of the customer service champion.

*Mark Bower is a Professional Speaker, Corporate Trainer, and the author of several books.

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